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Advice to a Young Soldier

Recently, a friend told me that her son was joining the Army, and asked if I had any words of wisdom for him.  I told her I’d speak with him if she wanted, or I could put together a few thoughts that she could pass on.

Here’s what I came up with.

  1. Don’t be stupid.  To paraphrase John Wayne, you’ve chosen a hard life, and it will get a lot harder if you don’t use your head for something other than to keep your ears apart.
  2. Don’t ever do anything that would make your grandmother ashamed of you.
  3. Learn everything you can, no matter how trivial.  There is no such thing as useless knowledge or a useless skill.  That boring class you go to or that manual lying around the day room might be what points you in the direction of your chosen profession.
  4. Volunteer.  Yeah, I know, never volunteer.  But getting exposure to new things will help with rule 3, and the most interesting and fun things you ever do will probably come because you put your hand up and said “I’ll do it.”
  5. Keep your ears open and your mouth shut.  The military tends to have a rigid social structure based on rank and time in service.  It’s also a harsh meritocracy, where experience is everything.  For the first year or so, you will be at the bottom of both ladders.   You will know when you’ve started climbing either of them.
    1. On the other hand, if you don’t understand, ask.  It’s better to take crap for not getting it the first time it’s explained than to catch hell for failure.
  6. For at least the first few years in the military, you can live without the following items (See rule 1):
    1. Any vehicle that you cannot afford to pay cash for.
    2. A huge stereo or TV.
    3. An STD.  See rule #2 and wrap that rascal.
    4. A DUI or any other criminal record. See rule 1 and 2.
    5. A credit card that you can’t afford to pay off every month.
    6. Cigarettes or chewing tobacco
  7. The following people are not your friends (See rules 1 and 2):
    1. Car salesmen
    2. That pretty young thing trying to get you to sign up for a credit card
    3. Pawn shop and tattoo parlor owners
    4. Strippers
    5. The guy who brings drugs to the party
    6. The bar owner who doesn’t card for underage drinkers
  8. If they’re worth marrying, they’re worth waiting for.  Getting married in a hurry is rarely a good idea. (See rule 1)
    1. Beware the potential spouse who knows way too much about the benefits for married people in the military.
  9. Someday, it will end.  It may be after one enlistment where all you get is a handshake and a DD214, or it may end after 30 years where you get a few hundred men and women pass in review to honor you.  But it will end.  Be prepared for that day, because how you handle it will impact the rest of your life.

Attention to Orders

For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty on 9–10 June 1944, near Goville, France. S/Sgt. Ehlers, always acting as the spearhead of the attack, repeatedly led his men against heavily defended enemy strong points exposing himself to deadly hostile fire whenever the situation required heroic and courageous leadership. Without waiting for an order, S/Sgt. Ehlers, far ahead of his men, led his squad against a strongly defended enemy strong point, personally killing 4 of an enemy patrol who attacked him en route. Then crawling forward under withering machinegun fire, he pounced upon the guncrew and put it out of action. Turning his attention to 2 mortars protected by the crossfire of 2 machineguns, S/Sgt. Ehlers led his men through this hail of bullets to kill or put to flight the enemy of the mortar section, killing 3 men himself. After mopping up the mortar positions, he again advanced on a machinegun, his progress effectively covered by his squad. When he was almost on top of the gun he leaped to his feet and, although greatly outnumbered, he knocked out the position single-handed. The next day, having advanced deep into enemy territory, the platoon of which S/Sgt. Ehlers was a member, finding itself in an untenable position as the enemy brought increased mortar, machinegun, and small arms fire to bear on it, was ordered to withdraw. S/Sgt. Ehlers, after his squad had covered the withdrawal of the remainder of the platoon, stood up and by continuous fire at the semicircle of enemy placements, diverted the bulk of the heavy hostile fire on himself, thus permitting the members of his own squad to withdraw. At this point, though wounded himself, he carried his wounded automatic rifleman to safety and then returned fearlessly over the shell-swept field to retrieve the automatic rifle which he was unable to carry previously. After having his wound treated, he refused to be evacuated, and returned to lead his squad. The intrepid leadership, indomitable courage, and fearless aggressiveness displayed by S/Sgt. Ehlers in the face of overwhelming enemy forces serve as an inspiration to others.

— Medal of Honor Citation for Staff Sergeant Walter D. Ehlers, 1st Infantry Division, May 7, 1921 to February 20, 2014.

Staff Sergeant Ehlers fought in North Africa and Sicily, landed in the second wave at Normandy, and earned his MOH during the fighting in France.  He lost his brother, Roland, who died when a mortar shell struck his landing craft at Omaha Beach.  We are fortunate that such men lived.

An interview the Orange County Register did with Mr. Ehlers can be found here.  It is amazing how matter of fact and humble people like him are.

Thought for the Day

5 And seeing the multitudes, He went up on a mountain, and when He was seated His disciples came to Him. 2 Then He opened His mouth and taught them, saying:

3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit,
For theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
4 Blessed are those who mourn,
For they shall be comforted.
5 Blessed are the meek,
For they shall inherit the earth.
6 Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
For they shall be filled.
7 Blessed are the merciful,
For they shall obtain mercy.
8 Blessed are the pure in heart,
For they shall see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers,
    For they shall be called sons of God.
10 Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake,
For theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

11 “Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake. 12 Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”

The Gospel of Saint Matthew, Chapter 5, Verses 1 through 12

Today is the anniversary of the date when NATO took over responsibility for peacekeeping in Bosnia-Herzegovina.  Almost 20 years on, I hope that the time that I and thousands of others spent there made life better for the regular folk of that region, who wanted nothing better than to live their life and raise their children in peace.

Book Review – Gunny’s Rules

The same nice lady who sent me a copy of Emily Miller’s book also sent along a copy of R. Lee Ermey’s new book, “Gunny’s Rules — How To Get Squared Away Like A Marine“.  Basically, it’s a cross between a memoir and a self-help motivational book, and it was a very enjoyable read.

The Gunny, as Ermey is affectionately called by his fans, writes about how his experiences, both during and after his service in the Marine Corps, have shaped his life, and draws lessons that others can apply to their lives.  Chapters take on subjects such as setting goals, being prepared for life, physical fitness, and leadership.  After discussing his views and experiences that relate to each subject, the author relates “Gunny’s Rules”,some musings that reinforce the lesson.  Here are some of my favorites:

  • A job as a short-order cook is a hell of a lot better than sitting on your dead ass watching television all day.
  • If you’re not confident you’ll succeed, you never will.
  • …no matter how short our mission is, we should always carry with us the essentials for staying alive.
  • If you’re still smoking, you’ve lost your freaking mind!
  • I have not always achieved my mission, but when I have come up short, it isn’t because I do not go the extra mile, do not carry my load.
  • I don’t recall anyone ever telling me life was going to be easy.

Each chapter finishes with several motivational quotations that also fit with its theme.  I had already heard most of them, but there were a lot that were new to me, and they all made me think.

There were only one quibble I had with the book, and it was minor.  In the “Major Malfunctions” chapter, Ermey discusses the decision by Army leadership to change uniform headgear to beret.  Ermey discusses how the Green Berets were forced to share their distinctive headgear.  Only problem is that it was the Rangers that had to give up their black berets so everyone else could wear them, and that Rangers and Airborne units had been wearing berets for decades.  Like I said, it’s a minor discrepancy, and it doesn’t distract from the rest of the book at all.

While there is some salty language in the book, “Gunny’s Rules” is going on the list for Girlie Bear and Little Bear to read.  While it made their 42-year-old father nod, it contains a lot of advice that I wish I had heard when I was 17, and maybe it’ll do them some good.

The book is well laid out, very well thought out, and an enjoyable read.  It’s also a quick read, but it’s the kind of book that you will go back and re-read, either whole or in chunks, when you need motivation or ideas for your life.  It’s definitely worth your time to give this one a shot.

Standard Disclaimer – The publisher of the book provided me with a copy for reading and review.  I am offering to return it now that I am done with it, and I received nothing else for this review.

Attention to Orders

The President of the United States of America, authorized by Act of Congress, March 3, 1863, has awarded in the name of Congress the Medal of Honor to

Captain William D. Swenson

United States Army

For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty:

Captain William D. Swenson distinguished himself by acts of gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty while serving as embedded advisor to the Afghan National Border Police, Task Force Phoenix, Combined Security Transition Command-Afghanistan in support of 1st Battalion, 32nd Infantry Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division, during combat operations against an armed enemy in Kunar Province, Afghanistan on September 8, 2009. On that morning, more than 60 well-armed, well-positioned enemy fighters ambushed Captain Swenson’s combat team as it moved on foot into the village of Ganjgal for a meeting with village elders. As the enemy unleashed a barrage of rocket-propelled grenade, mortar and machine gun fire, Captain Swenson immediately returned fire and coordinated and directed the response of his Afghan Border Police, while simultaneously calling in suppressive artillery fire and aviation support. After the enemy effectively flanked Coalition Forces, Captain Swenson repeatedly called for smoke to cover the withdrawal of the forward elements. Surrounded on three sides by enemy forces inflicting effective and accurate fire, Captain Swenson coordinated air assets, indirect fire support and medical evacuation helicopter support to allow for the evacuation of the wounded. Captain Swenson ignored enemy radio transmissions demanding surrender and maneuvered uncovered to render medical aid to a wounded fellow soldier. Captain Swenson stopped administering aid long enough to throw a grenade at approaching enemy forces, before assisting with moving the soldier for air evacuation. With complete disregard for his own safety, Captain Swenson unhesitatingly led a team in an unarmored vehicle into the kill zone, exposing himself to enemy fire on at least two occasions, to recover the wounded and search for four missing comrades. After using aviation support to mark locations of fallen and wounded comrades, it became clear that ground recovery of the fallen was required due to heavy enemy fire on helicopter landing zones. Captain Swenson’s team returned to the kill zone another time in a Humvee. Captain Swenson voluntarily exited the vehicle, exposing himself to enemy fire, to locate and recover three fallen Marines and one fallen Navy corpsman. His exceptional leadership and stout resistance against the enemy during six hours of continuous fighting rallied his teammates and effectively disrupted the enemy’s assault. Captain William D. Swenson’s extraordinary heroism and selflessness above and beyond the call of duty are in keeping with the highest traditions of military service and reflect great credit upon himself, Task Force Phoenix, 1st Battalion, 32nd Infantry Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division and the United States Army.

Stepping Up

By now, I’m sure most of you have heard about the case of five families who have not only lost loved ones in Afghanistan, but are also being denied survivor’s benefits that would allow them to meet their loved ones as their remains are brought home at Dover Air Force Base.  Normally, the Department of Defense issues $100,000.00 to the families of service members who are killed, which allows them to keep home and hearth together while they take care of bringing their fallen home, taking care of funeral expenses, and waiting for the rest of their benefits to come on-line.   Unfortunately, the DoD has decided that, even though Congress and the President approved legislation that would allow it to do so, it will not be making these payments until the budget impasse is over.  For military families, not having these benefits means weeks spent worrying about bills, groceries, and travel and funeral expenses while paperwork for life insurance wends its way through the system.

My opinion on this is that it’s either a boneheaded decision that they now don’t feel they can back down from or it’s part a concerted effort to make the shutdown hurt the most vulnerable.  In either case, all it would take is a phone call from President Obama to Defense Secretary Hagel to get this taken care of.  Since it’s still happening, I’m guessing that such a phone call hasn’t happened.

In the mean time, good people are stepping up and filling the gap.  Fisher House, which runs a series of ‘houses’ near military and VA medical centers world-wide for service members and their families, has offered to cover the payments to the families of service members who have died since the shutdown began.  Rather than wait for Uncle Sugar to do what he has promised to do, this private organization is doing the right thing.  Fisher House has done right by my family in the past, and their support has been instrumental in the care and well being of our wounded warriors and their families for decades.

So far, that puts the charity on the hook for half a million dollars, which I’m sure wasn’t planned for.  If you’ve got a little extra, please consider heading over to their website and making a donation.  If they’re doing what needs to be done, they deserve our support.

Attention to Orders

The President of the United States
in the name of The Congress
takes pleasure in presenting the

Medal of Honor



Rank and organization: Master Sergeant, U.S. Army, Company C, 302d Infantry, 94th Infantry Division. Place and date: Near Tettington, Germany, 23 January 1945. Entered service at: Bayonne, N.J. Birth: Bayonne, N.J. G.O. No.: 95, 30 October 1945.


M/Sgt. Oresko was a platoon leader with Company C, in an attack against strong enemy positions. Deadly automatic fire from the flanks pinned down his unit. Realizing that a machinegun in a nearby bunker must be eliminated, he swiftly worked ahead alone, braving bullets which struck about him, until close enough to throw a grenade into the German position. He rushed the bunker and, with pointblank rifle fire, killed all the hostile occupants who survived the grenade blast. Another machinegun opened up on him, knocking him down and seriously wounding him in the hip. Refusing to withdraw from the battle, he placed himself at the head of his platoon to continue the assault. As withering machinegun and rifle fire swept the area, he struck out alone in advance of his men to a second bunker. With a grenade, he crippled the dug-in machinegun defending this position and then wiped out the troops manning it with his rifle, completing his second self-imposed, 1-man attack. Although weak from loss of blood, he refused to be evacuated until assured the mission was successfully accomplished. Through quick thinking, indomitable courage, and unswerving devotion to the attack in the face of bitter resistance and while wounded, M /Sgt. Oresko killed 12 Germans, prevented a delay in the assault, and made it possible for Company C to obtain its objective with minimum casualties.


Nicholas Oresko died yesterday.  He joins a growing number of our World War II veterans who are passing from this world to the next.  Our nation was made better by his presence and that of his comrades. It is our responsibility to earn what they have given us and to make it even better.


20 years ago, American warriors were fighting for their lives, cut off and low on ammunition, food, and water.  Some were already dead; others would die from their wounds before a relief column could get to them.  18 Americans would die in the dust of Mogadishu on October 3 and 4, 1993.  The bodies of heroes Randall Shughart and Gary Gordon were drug through the streets as trophies, and western press obligingly flashed images of the macabre parade for all to see.

In honoring these men, we need to reflect on what we should learn from their sacrifice.  Mogadishu should have been a wake-up call.  Our opponents are not civilized nations, such as Germany or the U.S.S.R.  We are facing, for the most part, a poorly trained, but highly motivated, mob of barbarians.  They will give us no quarter, yet will use our own willingness to offer it as a tool against us.  They will not restrict their war to defeating us on a battlefield.  Rather, they will strike anywhere we seem to be weak, including overtly targeting our children.  What mercy we show them we cannot expect to have reciprocated, and we do so at our own peril.

We should also learn that there are limits to what our military can do, and that when we give them a mission, we should give them all that they need to accomplish it.  Our military is not a social services organization, and should not be used to rebuild failed nations.  At best, the military can be used to provide security for those organizations that are better suited for those tasks.

But they can only do these things when properly equipped and supported.  Had the requests for American armor been honored, then our casualties in Mogadishu would probably have been much smaller.  The blood of those who were killed and wounded because what they needed was sitting in a motor pool in Kuwait or Georgia stains the hands of bureaucrats and politicians in Washington.

The men who fought at Mogadishu were not there as conquerors.  They were there to try to help those who could not help themselves.  Whether or not it was our business to do so can be discussed later.  These men need to be remembered and honored for what they did, not why they were told to do it.  It falls to us to only put them in harm’s way when it is absolutely necessary, and to give them everything they need in order to accomplish their mission and return home, no matter what politics or tender feelings we hurt doing so.

We owe the dead their honor, and we owe the living everything we can give.  Nothing less is sufficient.

Welcome Home, Brother

Recently, a family in Clarksville, Tennessee, was given news that they have been waiting for since 1964.  The remains of Staff Sergeant Lawrence Woods, a member of the 5th Special Forces Group who disappeared after his aircraft was shot down in Cambodia, have been identified, and I imagine that he will soon be given the burial that he richly deserves.

Currently, there are 83,343 people listed as Missing In Action.  They are soldiers, sailors, airmen, and marines from World War II, Korea, The Cold War, Vietnam, and Iraq and the War on Terror.  There is one prisoner of war from Afghanistan that we still owe repatriation, Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl, who has been in captivity since 2009.

These are the sons, brothers, husbands, and fathers who never came home, and their final resting place is not known to their families.  They are the men who are still owed their burial flag, folded into a tri-corner, and given to their family as a memorial to their service.  They are owed the plaintive sound of “Taps”, and the sound of three volleys of rifle fire ringing across the hills of Virgina, the mountains of Colorado, and the prairies of Kansas.

Today is National POW/MIA Recognition Day, and I hope you will join me in adding these men and their families into evening prayers.  The debt we owe these men is to never forget them, and to be there for those they left behind.

To SSG Woods and the other servicemembers whose remains have been found and are being identified, I offer welcome back to our homeland.  To SGT Bergdahl, I pray that you are delivered safely back to your loved ones and a country that cherishes you.  And to my brothers who are still out there beyond the light of our fires, remember that we honor you, we will never forget you, and we will never stop looking for you.

How’s Your Day Going?

Life’s been tumultuous lately, but at least it’s been going better than it has for this poor paratrooper:



I guess you could say that he had a good day, because his gear kept his reserve on his body after the shock of his main not opening.

And people wonder why I never went airborne.

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